The Speeches of Acts, Part 22: Acts 19:23-41

The previous articles of this series covered the speeches in the book of Acts, through the Areopagus Speech of Paul in Acts 17 (cf. Parts 20 & 21). I will now be examining the remaining speeches in the book, which may be outlined as:

    • The twin speeches of Demetrius and the Ephesian official (19:23-41)
    • Paul’s address to the Elders of Ephesus/Asia (20:17-38)
    • Paul’s address to the people upon his arrest in Jerusalem (21:37-22:21ff)
    • The speeches of Tertullus and Paul before Felix (24:1-21)
    • Paul’s speech before Agrippa (26:1-29ff)
    • Paul’s address to Jews in Rome (28:23-28)

This article will deal with the first of these—the twin speeches (both by non-Christians) in chapter 19. Before preceding, it may be worth reminding the reader of the basic sermon-speech pattern I am utilizing, and which can be discerned (with some variation) in most, if not all, of the speeches in Acts:

    • Narrative introduction—this may be a simple introduction or include an extended narrative
    • The speech itself:
      • Introductory address, often with kerygmatic elements, leading into the Scripture passage
      • Citation from Scripture
      • Exposition and Gospel kerygma
      • Concluding exhortation
    • Narrative summary

Acts 19:23-41

Chapter 19 records Paul’s missionary work in Ephesus, chief city of Roman Asia. Within the overall narrative of Acts, this work in Ephesus represents the climactic point of Paul’s missionary journeys in the Greco-Roman world. Beginning with chapter 20, the arc of the narrative shifts to his return to Jerusalem, arrest, and (final) journey to Rome. There are actually four main episodes in this Ephesian section of the missionary narratives, which I outline (in two parts) as follows:

    • Establishment of Apostolic (Pauline) Christianity in Ephesus, contrasted with the incomplete understanding of ‘Baptist’ believers (18:23-19:7)
      • 18:23-28—Apollos in Ephesus (Baptism of John point of contrast [v. 25ff])
      • 19:1-7—Paul in Ephesus (Baptism of John point of contrast)
    • Paul’s Missionary Work in Ephesus (19:8-41)
      • 19:8-22—His Missionary Work described
        • Vv. 8-11—Part 1 narration
        • Vv. 12-16—Illustrated by two key traditions
        • Vv. 17-20—Part 2 narration
        • Vv. 21-22—Conclusion
      • 19:23-41—The Effect of His Missionary Work

The two speeches are part of this last section, describing/illustrating the effect of Paul’s mission work on the (pagan) population of Ephesus (and the surrounding area). In tone and subject matter, it resembles the earlier episode in Philippi (16:16-24ff), in which the Gospel preaching of Paul and his fellow missionaries (Silas) had a negative (commercial) impact on the religious culture of the city (vv. 16, 19), provoking a hostile response (vv. 19ff). The Ephesian episode is all the more striking in that Paul himself scarcely appears in it at all (vv. 29b-30), and says nothing. The speeches are made by non-Christians, and reflect two different aspects of the pagan response. The only other speech by a non-believer that is at all comparable is that of Gamaliel in 5:34-40 (discussed in Part 8); indeed, as we shall see, there are definite parallels between that speech and the one given by the Ephesian official in 19:35-40.

Here is an outline of the passage as a whole:

    • Introduction—v. 23
    • Speech #1 (Demetrius)—vv. 24-27
    • Response: “Great is Artemis…” —vv. 28-34
      • Outcry 1 (v. 28)
        • Chaos/Confusion (vv. 29-33), affecting:
          —Paul & his Disciples
          —Alexander & his fellow Jews
          neither is able to speak and address the crowd
      • Outcry 2 (v. 34)
    • Speech #2 (Ephesian official)—vv. 35-40a
    • Conclusion—v. 40b

We can see how the two speeches bracket the central scene of tumult and confusion among the people (vv. 28-34)—in this pagan uproar, neither Christian (Paul & his companions) nor Jew (Alexander) is able to do anything about it.

Introduction (verse 23)

This sense of conflict, coming as a result of the Pauline ministry, is expressed clearly in the opening narration, referring to it as disturbance (“stirring”, ta/raxo$) about “the Way” (h( o%do$): “And down (around) th(at) time there came to be no little disturbance about the Way”. For other instances in the book of Acts where the early Christian movement was called “the Way”, cf. 9:2; 19:9; 22:4; 24:14, 22; note also 16:17; 18:25-26. This agitation among the people is to be understood essentially as the result of the dramatic episodes described previously in vv. 11-20; the public burning of expensive pagan (‘magical’) writings, in particular, would have been most striking (v. 19).

First Speech (Demetrius, verses 24-27)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 24-25)

The “disturbance” mentioned in verse 23 is clearly presented by the author as representative of the conflict between early Christianity and the (pagan) religion of the Greco-Roman world (here, Roman Asia). This conflict both defines, and is expressed by, the speech of Demetrius, a “beater/hammerer of silver” (a)rguroko/po$). The significance of this detail must be understood in the light of earlier episodes—in Lystra (14:11-18), Philippi (16:16-21ff), and Athens (17:16-31)—involving pagan deities and their images, etc. Especially important in this regard is the wording used by Paul in his Areopagus speech (17:24), where he contrasts the true God (and Creator of all) with those (pagan) deities thought to dwell in shrines “made by (human) hands” (xeiropoih/to$). A bit later in the speech (v. 29), he contrasts the true God with the images of these other deities, made, for example, of gold and silver (a&rguro$), and carved/marked by human production (te/xnh) and (artistic) impulse. Demetrius is just such an artisan/producer (texni/th$), and addresses a group of his fellow workers in his speech (v. 24-25a):

“For (there was) a certain (man), Belonging-to-Demeter {Demetrios} by name, a beater of silver making silver shrines for Artemis, (who) held alongside for the (other) producers no little work (to profit by), (and) whom he (now) gathered together, and (also) the workers about [i.e. associated with] these (men), (and) said (to them):”

Thus he addresses a significant group of artisans and workers involved in production of images, etc, related to the cult of Artemis—a major industry in Ephesus and Roman Asia.

Address (v. 25b)

According to the speech-pattern in Acts, the introductory address typically leads into a central citation from Scripture. Clearly, this would not be part of the speech by a (pagan) non-believer such as Demetrius, and there is nothing corresponding to it. Even so, the address, follows the pattern of earlier speeches, beginning with the vocative a&ndre$ (“Men…”, cf. 2:5, 14, 22, 29; 3:12; 5:35, et al.). The principal statement of his address defines the situation more clearly:

“Men, you (may) stand (your mind) upon (it) [i.e. understand], that out of this work is our good way (of liv)ing”

As in the episode at Philippi (16:16, 19), the early Christian mission in the Greco-Roman world has (or may have) a detrimental economic effect on segments of society dependent upon the pagan religious culture. The response of these artisans is practical, rather than purely based on religious concerns.

Exposition and ‘Kerygma’ (v. 26)

Instead of the Christian kerygma, or gospel proclamation, of the sermon-speech pattern (see above), here we have a description or characterization of it from a hostile (pagan) standpoint:

“and you (can) look upon (it) and hear (it), that not only (in) Efesos, but (in) nearly all of Asia (has) this Paulus been persuading an ample throng (of people), and made (them) stand over (with him), saying that ‘they are not gods’ th(ese thing)s coming to be (made) through (our) hands!”

The expression “this [ou!to$] Paulus” and the verb pei/qw (“persuade”), in particular, echo and summarize the proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel as the central activity and purpose of the Pauline mission. The phrase “coming to be (made) through (our) hands” (dia\ xeirw=n gino/menoi) again reflects the important wording in 17:24-25 (also 7:41, 48; cf. above), and the contrast between the true God (proclaimed by early Christians) and the images/temples of the pagan ‘deities’.

Exhortation (implied, v. 27)

This is a different sort of exhortation than what we find in the sermon-speeches by Christians; rather, it is intended to spur the people (Demetrius’ fellow artisans) to take action in response to Paul’s missionary work. The urgency to act is indicated by the verb kinduneu/w (“be in danger/peril”):

“And not only this, our portion (in this work) is in danger (of) coming into (complete) disgrace, but also the sacred place of the great goddess Artemis being counted unto [i.e. as] nothing, and even the greatness of her whom the whole (of) Asia and the inhabited (world) reveres (may) be about to be taken down!”

The Greek deity Artemis (syncretized with Roman Diana) was the chief deity worshiped in Ephesus, reflecting a high Goddess conception that likely stretches back into the Anatolian Bronze Age and Neolithic period. Her lavish cult—including temples, festivals, images, processions, and celebrations of various sorts—in Ephesus and the surrounding region was well known, and certainly a source of both economic activity and civic pride for the city. Thus, Demetrius’ warning stems from more than just a concern for the livelihood of his fellow artisans—the early Christian mission threatens the very existence of the religious culture that defines and governs the city. The three clauses show this progression of “danger”:

    • production of images and shrines will come into disrepute
    • the great sacred place (temple) of Artemis itself will be counted as nothing
    • the greatness of the goddess Artemis herself will be diminished

This effectively serves to summarize the entire Greco-Roman religious establishment: (1) images and popular devotion, (2) temple and cult/priesthood, and (3) the conception/recognition of the deity.

Response by the Crowd (verses 28-34)

In the structure of the narrative, the response by Demetrius’ audience (fellow artisan/workers) is apparently picked up more widely by the crowds, spreading through the city (v. 29a). This results in an extended scene of confusion and chaos, moving from Demetrius’ audience to a crowd of thousands filling the great theater of Ephesus (v. 29b). The scene is framed by the people/crowds shouting “Great (is) Artemis of the Ephesians!” (mega/lh h(  &Artemi$  )Efesi/wn, vv. 28, 34). This represents the voice of the pagan world rising up in response (opposition) to the early Christian (Pauline) mission. Note the clear structure of this section:

    • Outcry 1: “Great (is) Artemis of the Ephesians” (v. 28)
    • Chaos/Confusion among the People—in the city and the theater (vv. 29-33)
      • Confusion in the city (vv. 29-31): Paul & his companions
      • Confusion in the theater (vv. 32-33): Alexander & his fellow Jews
    • Outcry 2: “Great (is) Artemis of the Ephesians” (v. 34)

The presence of Paul and Alexander (an otherwise unknown Jew in Ephesus) in the middle of this scene is curious—why are they mentioned when they do not feature in what follows, and are not even able to speak or address the crowd? In particular, one would expect Paul to have a more prominent role in the narrative here. One critical view would be that, in the original Ephesian tradition underlying vv. 23-41, Paul really did not feature at all, but was introduced (only to suddenly disappear) in vv. 29-30 in order to integrate the episode within the wider setting of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. It may also simply be that, at the historical level, Paul was not able to participate in the proceedings. However, the careful structure suggests a literary shaping with a clear (and most interesting) purpose: to illustrate the power of the pagan religious culture of the Greco-Roman world, which threatens both Christianity (Paul & his companions) and Judaism (Alexander & fellow Jews). The unified voice of the Ephesian crowd (with their confession of Artemis) serves as a intentional contrast to the unity of early Christians with their proclamation of Jesus and the one true God (YHWH). The word o(moqumado/n (“[with] one impulse”), describing the crowd in v. 29, was used repeatedly to describe the early Christian community in Jerusalem (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12). Only here, the unified response of the (pagan) crowd results in confusion and violent action:

“And the city was full of the pouring together [sugxu/sew$] (of people), and they rushed [w%rmhsan] with one impulse [o(moqumado/n] into the place of (public) viewing [i.e. theater], (hav)ing seized hold of [sunarpa/sante$] Gaius and Aristarchos together…” (v. 29)

Their action is similar to that of the Jewish crowd that rushed [w%rmhsan] upon Stephen with one impulse [o(moqumadon] (7:57); the parallel between Jewish and Pagan hostility to Christianity is strengthened when we consider the similarity between the speech in vv. 35ff and that of Gamaliel (cf. below). The structure of the narrative in vv. 29ff is more precise than a casual reading might suggest:

    • Confusion in the city (v. 29a)
      • Paul’s companions [Gaius & Aristarchos] (v. 29b)
        • Paul comes forward to address the crowd, but is prevented (v. 30)
          • Presence of the Ephesians officials [Asiarchs] (v. 31)
    • Confusion in the theater (v. 32)
      • Jews in the crowd [companions of Alexander] (v. 33a)
        • Alexander comes forward to address the crowd, and is prevented (v. 33b-34a)
          • Presence of an Ephesian official (v. 35)

The first Ephesian officials are called by the title  )Asia/rxh$ (“chief of Asia”), which can be understood in several ways. The simplest explanation is that it refers to a person who belonged to the public assembly for the Roman province of Asia, which met regularly in Ephesus. It is said here that several of these men, present in the city, were friendly toward Paul (lit. “[one]s fond of [him]”, fi/loi); and it is they who ultimately persuade him not to attempt to enter the theatre (v. 31). The second Ephesian official is referred to by the term grammateu/$ (“writer”), indicating, in particular, someone with a good understanding of the written law. It is he who addresses the crowd (in the theater), with the second speech.

Second Speech (verses 35-41)

Narrative Introduction & Address (vv. 35-36)

The brief narrative introduction (v. 35a) simply states that this literate official (grammateu/$) “set(tled) down” (vb. kataste/llw) the crowd. It was neither Paul (a Christian) or Alexander (a Jew) who quiets the crowd, but a thoughtful and reasonable pagan; this point is significant, and will be touched on below. The address (vv. 35b-36) begins just as in the first speech, with a vocative a&ndre$ (“Men…”, cf. above):

“Men, Efesians, what (person) is (there) of (you) men that does not know the city of the Efesians (as) being (the) shrine-sweeper of the great Artemis and of th(at which) fell from (the realm of) Dis? So (then), these (thing)s being without (any) utterance against (them), it is necessary for you to begin (to be) settled down, and to act (doing) nothing falling forward.”

The formal (and technical) language here sounds rather awkward when rendered literally, as I have done. By speaking of what the people know, this official is utilizing a well-known rhetorical technique intended to assuage the audience (captatio benevolentiae, “capture of good will”), as well as to establish a point of agreement upon which to build. The word newko/ro$, lit. “shrine sweeper”, means someone who takes care of a religious shrine, and refers to Ephesus as the location of the great temple of Artemis. The adjective diopeth/$, literally means something which “fell from (the realm) of Zeus [Di$]”, but as an idiom simply “fallen from the sky“. It probably refers to a meteorite which took on sacred status as a divine image/manifestation (of Artemis). The purpose of this reaffirmation of the Artemis cult in Ephesus is to convince the people that, contrary to Demetrius’ warnings, there is no real threat to it at present. Therefore, they ought to settle down and not take any rash action (indicated by the adjective propeth/$, “falling/stumbling forward”).

The reference to the Artemis cult, etc, in verse 35 functions as a citation from history, essentially taking the place of the citation from Scripture in the sermon-speech pattern (see above). It is worth comparing with the speech of Gamaliel in Acts 5:35-40 (Part 8 of this series), for which I have given the following outline:

    • Narrative Introduction (v. 34)
    • Introductory Address (v. 35)
    • Citation from History (vv. 36-37)—instead of a Scriptural citation, two examples taken from recent/contemporary (Jewish) history are cited
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 38-39), with an application to the current situation
    • Narrative Summary (vv. 39b-41)

Exposition / ‘Kerygma’ (v. 37)

As in the speech of Demetrius, there is no Gospel proclamation (kerygma) as such, but, rather, a reference to the preaching/missionary activity of Paul and his colleagues. Only, the description here is presented in a more positive light, regarding the conduct of these Christians:

“For you brought these men (forward), and (yet they are) not strippers [i.e. robbers] of sacred (places), and are not insulting our Deity.”

This statement affirms the prior notice that Paul and his associates pose no threat to the Artemis cult, in the sense that they are not acting violently against the sacred things/places, nor are they speaking abusively against the goddess herself. This is an important emphasis, one made repeatedly in the book of Acts: that the Christian Community and its missionaries do not constitute a danger to the order of society, neither in the Jewish nor Greco-Roman world. Here it is entirely the latter (Greco-Roman), since the Jews (Alexander and his fellows) are isolated and play no role in the scene; the hostile crowd, for the first time in the Acts narratives, is entirely pagan.

Exhortation (vv. 38-40)

The advice given by the Ephesian official to the crowd is similar to that given by Gamaliel (5:38-39) to his fellow Jews—they should take care how they act toward these Christians. Being a grammateu/$, he naturally makes a point of following the (written) law, rather than resorting to exacting justice through mob violence. There is an established public (a)gorai=o$) forum for resolving disputes, and there are government officials presiding over them—note the use of the term a)nqu/pato$ here, which could also refer to the highest official, the Roman proconsul (Asia being a senatorial province). The importance of following the law is stated most clearly in verse 39:

“And if you seek (any) further (action) on (this), resolution about (it) will be (made) in the law(ful) assembly [e)kklhsi/a].”

There is, of course, a play on words here—e)kklhsi/a, lit. those “called out” to assemble, which elsewhere is typically used for the gatherings of believers. There is another play on words in v. 40, where the official uses the same verb (kinduneu/w, “be in danger”) as Demetrius did in his speech. The irony is that, while there is no danger to society from the Christian mission, the people are in peril by their own hostile/violent reaction to it; indeed, the crowd’s uproar represents the real danger to the city. They are warned that, if they act rashly, they will be called to give account (lo/go$) for it before the authorities, much as Gamaliel warns his fellow Jews that they will be held responsible by God.

Narrative Conclusion (v. 41)

The brief conclusion to the speech, which also serves as the conclusion to the entire Ephesus narrative, is parallel to the opening:

“And having settled down the crowd, the grammateu/$ said…”
“And having said these (thing)s, he released the assembly.”

Again, the word e)kklhsi/a is used (here translated “assembly”), parallel with o&xlo$ (“throng [of people], crowd”). Also the official’s speech governs the twin actions, showing its effect in calming the people and resolving the conflict:

    • kataste/llw (“set(tle) down”)—even before he speaks, the presence of this official settles and quiets the crowd
    • a)polu/w (“loose[n] from”)—in context this verb can mean that the official, after his speech, dismisses or “releases” the crowd; however, the literal sense may be at work as well: through his speech, he has “loosed” the people from their hostile intent (toward Paul)

What is most remarkable about this episode is that it is not Paul (nor any other Christian) who calms the crowd and resolves the conflict through his speech, but a pagan city official! The attention the author gives to this is surely significant in the context of his overall narrative. Again, the parallel with Gamaliel is important to note. Gamaliel is a leading Jewish official who, speaking in a reasoned manner, advises the people not to act rashly, implying that the Christians may not pose any real threat to the order and good of society. Now, a leading pagan (Roman/Asian) official does much the same, even more pointedly, from the standpoint of Roman (provincial) society, emphasizing that Paul and his associates have neither broken any laws nor acted abusively even towards the pagan religious culture of the city. We may, perhaps, draw two (practical) conclusions from these thematic strands in the book of Acts:

    • Christians act, and are to act, in a responsible and lawful way within society, and that
    • Societal change (including change of religious views) is to come about through the preaching/proclamation of the Gospel, and not through fomenting social unrest and violence; indeed, such unrest is fundamentally anti-Christian, i.e. hostile to the Gospel, as indicated in this very episode.